Update: 12/23/16: I’ve been blogging about how I recover from mild traumatic brain injury for nearly 10 years now. My last mTBI was in 2004, but I’ve had a number of others, and each one was different. As of December, 2016, nearly a quarter of a million visitors have viewed my posts over half a million times. And each one of the hundreds of people who have left comments, have had a different story to tell, as well as different needs to address after their own brain injuries.
I check my site stats, every now and then, looking over the different ways people have found their way to this site, over the past few years. One thing that comes up a lot is questions about concussion and intelligence — being “stupid” after a concussion.
The main thing I hope to convey to people who come to my blog seeking info and reassurance is:
If you’ve recently (or not so recently) had a concussion, and you’re feeling really stupid, know this:
You are not alone.
A lot of people feel stupid after a concussion. In my case, you’d be pretty hard-pressed to convince me that I’m NOT stupid. My sense of being an idiot persists, even to this day – when I know that I’m not less intelligent than the next person because of the head injuries I’ve had.
After all, I have done some pretty lame things in my day, that just looked, well, STUPID. But until I learned about the effects TBI have on you, it never occurred to me that the concussions I’d sustained — in sports (football and soccer) and car accidents and falls — had anything to do with it.
But see, here’s the thing: We grow up learning how to do things a different way. The more you do things a certain way, the better you get at them. We develop skills in certain areas, and our brains get wired specifically to do things a certain way. The better we become at those things the “smarter” we think we are. And we can base a lot of our personal identity on how well we do the things we love to do — or how poorly we do things that we suck at.
It’s all part of who we are, and it’s how we decide what we’re made of and what we’re worth.
But when you have a concussion — a momentary alteration of consciousness that alters your brain function — some of the wiring that lets us do what we do gets mucked up. Even if you don’t lose consciousness, even if you “just” got your bell rung, or you were “out of it” for a while, that alteration of consciousness is a clear sign that the brain function has been interrupted – the brain has been injured.
And then we start to “short out” a little bit. It’s like our brain’s electrical wires got chewed by mice, and the lights start to flicker a little bit.
And then you start to do “stupid” things. Because the autopilot that you used to be on… well, that’s not working the way it used to. The connections in your brain that help one part of you tell the other what to do… that’s messed up. Your transmission is out of whack. And when you think you’re shifting into first gear, you can end up in reverse.
It’s kind of like getting into a car in England or Japan where people drive on the left side of the road, when you’re used to driving on the right. All of a sudden, things are a bit turned around… but you’re not sure exactly why or how. And the turning around seems to come out of nowhere.
Which totally sucks, dude. It totally sucks. Not fun.
So, there you are, going about your everyday life, doing the things you always did before… but all of a sudden, everything is screwed up and nothing makes any sense.
Trust me — it’s not you. It’s the way your brain has been rearranged. It could be that the rearranging will be obvious for only a few hours or days or weeks or months… till you get back into the swing of things and your connections get all sorted out. It could be that your brain gets back online the way it used to — swelling goes down, the gunk that got released in the impact gets cleared out, connections get re-routed or rebuilt — and you get on with your life.
Or it could be that the disruption is really more than you expected (or maybe realized) and you end up walking around in a perpetual WTF?! frame of mind, wondering why the hell things aren’t going as smoothly as they always did before.
Again, it’s not YOU. You’re not stupid, all of a sudden. Your brain took a hit, and it needs some help getting back in the game.
Could be, it takes a lot longer than you expected, for it to get back in the swing of things.
Or it could be that in order to get back in the game, you have to figure out different ways of doing things that really work — instead of the old ways that were dependent on the old wiring.
Granted, it’s not easy to accept the fact that your brain needs rewiring / retraining. But if you were driving down the street by a route you’re accustomed to, and all of a sudden you found the way blocked by unplanned construction, you wouldn’t flip out and blame yourself for being so stupid to try to get down that street. Would you? After all, they didn’t tell you ahead of time that this was happening.
Okay, so maybe you would flip out… but you wouldn’t blame yourself. You’d simply turn your car around and look for a different route. What WOULD be stupid, is trying to force your car down that street when the road is torn open in huge gaping holes, and there are police officers on detail just waiting to arrest you for pushing your way through. You’ve been told clearly that the street is no longer serviceable — you’ve been warned. If you get yourself hurt or arrested, you’ve got only yourself to thank for that.
Now, granted, street construction and concussion aren’t exactly the same thing. And there’s only so much you can expect of yourself, when you’re freshly head-injured. But if you treat the course of your daily life like driving down a road, and you treat the bumps and problems you encounter like potholes and obstacles, it might help put things in perspective.
As human beings, we love to come down hard on ourselves over things that go wrong. We love to look for people to blame — and those people are often ourselves. We also love to think we have a lot more control over life than we actually do. And we love to believe that we have total control and command of our lives.
Sometimes shit happens.
Sometimes concussions happen.
You’re not suddenly stupid.
You just need to retrain your brain.
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